A VtM20A primer, long version

(Glutton for punishment section – TL;DR version here)
This is aimed primarily at the players who will be taking part in the one-off, several of whom have never had any contact with Vampire or the wider World of Darkness setting. It’s also *my* take on the setting, so if something looks weird or isn’t as you remember it from when you played it, that would be why.

VtM glossary here for the truly devoted.

System Basics

Each character has ATTRIBUTES (Strength, Intelligence, Charisma, etc.) split into three categories of three attributes each: Physical, Social and Mental. Characters also have a number of different SKILLS (e.g. Drive, Firearms, Computers). Characters also possess various DISCIPLINES (‘magical’ powers derived from their vampiric blood or nature), BACKGROUNDS (advantages such as higher generToreador_Bradstreetation, allies, contacts, a mentor, etc.) and VIRTUES (Conscience, Self-control and Courage).

The last important stats are WILLPOWER, which is used both passively (as a difficulty for others to do things to you, primarily mental and social things) and actively (you can spend a Willpower point for various things), HUMANITY (are you a nice fluffy vampire or are you a bestial monster?) and BLOOD POOL (used to heal, power disciplines, and general stay alive, or at least undead).

All comparative competence levels are measured in “dots”, from zero (don’t have the skill) to a potential max of 10, though most characters won’t usually go above 5.

Rolling Dice

All rolls are made using d10s. Most rolls involve 1 attribute + 1 skill.  You add up your dots in an attribute and your dots in a skill to get your DICE POOL, which is the number of dice you roll for your action. The GM assigns a difficulty if one isn’t pre-set, and you roll. All d10s that show that difficulty number or higher are successes. Each 1 rolled cancels out a success. You can therefore succeed really well, succeed, fail, or fail miserably (aka botch) where additional bad things happen.

Example: Firing at someone uses Dex + Firearms. If you have 3 Dex and 2 Firearms, you’d roll 5d10 against a GM-set difficulty (in this case usually 6).

Age, Generation and power

Aside from dots in attributes and skills, a vampire’s power or potential is measured by her age (which gives experience to improve anything from inherent attributes to skills) and Generation.

Setite_BradstreetCaine (killer of Abel and marked by God) is generally held to be the First Vampire, or Generation One. The vampires he created became the Second Generation, and the vampires they created became the Third Generation, and so on down the line. After the thirteenth generation vampiric blood seems to become too diluted to function correctly, and many 13th Gen vampires can’t reliably sire progeny of their own – it either doesn’t work, or the progeny is so weak-blooded as to be little more than human.

Since vampires don’t all procreate immediately and like crazy, a vampire’s generation can often be a good indicator of when they were created. Caine has not been seen in uncounted ages — many vampires hope he’s long gone while others hold an almost messianic hope of his return. The Second Generation — there were only three — are all held to have met the Final Death long ago. The Third Generation (also known as Antediluvians, even if they weren’t all sired before the mythical Flood) are either dead or in torpor… or so most vampires hope. Gens 1-3 are the mythical vampiric messiahs or bogeymen of Kindred society, depending on which side you’re on.

Generations 4 and 5 are occasionally encountered; they’re colloquially known as Methuselahs and most vampires hope never to have to deal with one. Most of them spend the majority of their time in ‘torpor’, aka sleep (though it’s a sleep which doesn’t seem to prevent many of them from using their freaky-ass old vampire powers on the world around them). Their power levels are so far above most other vampires’ as to be almost god-like; many of them were embraced before the birth of Christ.

bradstreet-brujah-bwGenerations 6 and 7 are fairly common in the Old World and most were embraced (‘created’, or ‘sired’) in the first millennium of the Christian Era or during the Middle Ages; they are less common in the New World but aren’t unheard-of. Generations 7, 8 and 9 comprise the bulk of older/more powerful vampires in the New World as well as the majority of older vampires that are still active in vampire politics and society. Generations 10 to 13 are for the most part the so-called ‘modern generations’ that were sired in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. They are comparatively weaker and more limited than their elders and betters (in game terms, their attribute/skill maximums are lower).

NOTE that a vampire’s generation and her age are not synonymous, though there is often some parallel. If a 7th-gen vampire were to sire a childe tonight, that neonate would be 8th generation even if s/he were only a few hours old. Age provides experience, but generation provides inherent benefits that are only available to those whose blood is closer to Caine’s. Those benefits include higher maximum traits/skills, a larger blood pool, and the ability to ‘spend’ more blood per turn (on things like increasing one’s strength or powering disciplines).

The Setting

Vampires exist and have always existed. So do werewolves, mages, ghosts and even leprechauns (or at least creatures from Faerie). For the most part, humans have no idea that any of these beings are more than fairy tales, and it’s important that it stays that way. (Each supernatural being type has a good reason for not wanting humanity to find out about them, primarily the fact that humanity could wipe them out pretty quick if it got freaked out and over-reacted.)

Nosferatu_bradstreetVampires have to interact with mortals a lot (mostly when sucking their blood, and because most vamps are city-dwellers) and they’ve turned the whole secrecy thing into a giant conspiracy of silence and cover-ups called The Masquerade. If a vamp is subtle enough, most humans need never even know they just got bitten, provided a) the vamp licks the wound (which heals it), b) the vamp didn’t drain them entirely, or take too much, and c) the vamp didn’t come on all ‘grr aargh I’m a vampire’. Most vampires can very easily cloud the mortal’s memory of the event or make them believe it was just amazing sex… and most humans will tend to rationalize the experience even if the vampire does nothing. Mortals don’t want to believe that the world is haunted by real-life ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night.

Vampires are not human anymore, though many try to retain shreds of their former selves. They are undead and animated by some force nobody really understands, which most call the Beast. The Beast wants only to feed, survive and get stronger. It doesn’t like to get scared (by things that kill vamps, especially things like sunlight or fire), it’s not great with impulse control when it’s angry, and it tends to get all riled up in the presence of anything that’s remotely competition (i.e. other vampires & supernatural beings).

Clans

A vampire clan is composed of vampires who traces their common ancestry back to a specific Third Generation vampire and who tend to exhibit similar powers of the blood. Because vampires often embrace those who are like them, members of the same clan also tend to have certain stereotypical traits and disciplines in common. For instance, most Gangrel are able to take on beastly characteristics, most Nosferatu tend to be good at vanishing even while you’re looking at them, and every Malkavian is batshit crazy. Note that every clan has its black sheep and clan stereotypes are as useful and limited as any other stereotype. More information on clans below.

Vampire Society

(Note: since you’ll be playing Camarilla characters for the one-off, this section is biased towards Camarilla perceptions and ‘truths’)

Vampires are predators and most live in a paradoxical state of resenting every other vampire around (competition and the drive of the inner ‘Beast’) while needing them for company over the next 100,000 lonely nights. Nobody else really understands you and everyone else gets old and dies, which is a particular kind of bummer only another immortal creature can empathize with.

Tremere_BradstreetOver the last 7 centuries or so two primary sociopolitical groupings have emerged. The Camarilla believes the Masquerade is the Prime Directive and would rather not go back to the witch- and vampire-burning Middle-Ages. It’s a pretty autocratic society where the older (generally lower-generation) vampires tend to rule the roost because they’re older and they know better; opportunities for advancement tend to be limited in a social structure where nobody retires or dies (…of natural causes). The Sabbat, on the other hand, are absolutely certain that the Antediluvians and Methuselahs (and possibly Caine himself) are someday going to pop out of their millennia-old sleeps and basically devour every other vampire alive, and that any vampire with half a brain should spend most of his or her unlife preparing for that eventuality; they call this awakening “Gehenna” and they’re pretty sure it’s coming very, very soon — the End of Days and all that. They might not be wrong.

The Camarilla is modeled on human societal structures (mostly feudal ones) and its members generally have at least some regard for human life and their own humanity, however thinly-stretched, if only because annoyed humans as a group can be dangerous and because a good predator takes care of its herd. Camarilla-controlled cities often have a ‘Prince’ at the top of the political heap, followed by a ‘Primogen’ (generally the Elders of the various clans) or advisory body, followed by various lower orders. It’s not entirely split along generational lines but since lower-generation vampires are usually also older than higher-generation vampires, age and generation tend to be the defining factors when it comes to having a voice in local politics.

The Sabbat however believe that since vampires aren’t even remotely human anymore there’s no reason to be pussies and act like them — there’s a reason vampires are apex predators and while keeping the herd alive and making sure they don’t all panic and stampede is all well and good, most vampires should nut up and act like the hunters they are. They’re a product of the Middle Ages as well, largely a response to the Camarilla.

Another major group vampires claim ‘allegiance’ to is the Anarchs, who are a rebellious faction within the Camarilla that’s mostly made up of younger vamps and which the Elders tend to call a ‘phase’ in a younger vampire’s life; after all, many of them went through an Anarch phase in their youth. Depending on who you talk to, Anarchs are the future of vampire society (according to them, it’s a future that includes a little more democracy and a great deal more freedom), a tedious but not surprising phase in a vampire’s early unlife (Camarilla elders) or a bunch of milquetoast wannabes playing with the illusion of freedom and meaningful change (the Sabbat).

Camarilla Clans

Brujah — [Disciplines:] a clan known for physical strength, speed, and a whole lot of attitude. Many younger Brujah are anarchs. The ancient city of Carthage was a Brujah experiment that didn’t end well (the Punic wars were a vampire thing). Stereotypically, they’re seen as being as subtle as a brick, but that’s not necessarily true. They just happen to be able to hit you really hard if their plans don’t work out.

Gangrel — stereotypically, straw-covered country hicks who barely know how to navigate a city street. [Disciplines:] Known for their love of animals (often as food, which is just tacky), their toughness and their ability to do weird transformy shit with their bodies, like extrude really damaging claws. In their own minds, the Gangrel are a mostly decent bunch who don’t hold with the whole backstabbing most other Kindred get up to.

Malkavian — a clan known primarily for being deeply, variedly and often frighteningly insane. Every Malkavian has at least one derangement, and common wisdom has it that it’s the most apparently sane ones you really need to worry about. [Disciplines:] Their blood skills tend to include preternatural perception (like, see ghosts perception or read your thoughts perception), sneaking around, and making other people just as mad as they are (yes, vampires too). [GM note: this clan can be super interesting to play but can also be super 2-dimensional and “hey look how cuckoo I am!” boring. Choose at your own risk.]

Nosferatu — a clan known for being a whole new definition of ugly and a whole different breed of creepy. [Disciplines:] Also known for talking to rats (and other animals), hiding in plain sight, and being able to throw full-sized cars around like Tinker Toys. Generally a fairly tightly-knit clan (but not always). Often the brokers of secrets around town — no vampire spies on another vampire like a Nosferatu.

Toreador — stereotypically, pretty prom queens and tortured artistes. [Disciplines:] Known for preternatural perception, preternatural speed and unreal (and highly irresistible) personal magnetism. Anyone who underestimates them as a bunch of undead Heathers usually ends up regretting it. Generally among the more socially prominent, better-known and often well-liked Kindred in Camarilla cities.

Tremere — stereotypically, what happens when a bunch of mortal wizards in the Middle Ages decide they want to become immortal. They don’t quite wield the magic the magi did back then, but they wield a pretty magic-like discipline (Thaumaturgy) that can do an awful lot of really nasty things. [Disciplines:] Blood powers include preternatural perception, mental domination and that creepy half-mage, half-vampire magic stuff.

Ventrue — stereotypically they’re the prom queen, king, team quarterback and class president all rolled into one. They are perfectly certain of their own superiority and everyone else hates them at least a little bit for it. Problem is, they do have a way of coming out on top. [Disciplines:] Known for majestic presence, preternatural toughness, and good old mental coercion when the alluring act isn’t quite enough.


All the art on this page is by Tim Bradstreet, hands down the best VtM artist EVAR.